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Central African Republic (Tier 2)

The Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore CAR remained on Tier 2. The government investigated more trafficking cases, and for the first time in five years, convicted a trafficker. Officials finalized standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification and referral to care for trafficking victims. Additionally, the government launched a new hotline for reporting violence against women, including trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Victim services remained inadequate. Central African Armed Forces (FACA) officers unlawfully recruited and used at least one child during the reporting period. The national assembly did not finalize the pending anti-trafficking legislation during the reporting period, and official complicity in human trafficking remained significant concerns.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Cease the recruitment and use of child soldiers by all government forces, hold complicit officials accountable, and expand efforts to sensitize all national security forces on CAR’s anti-child soldiering directives.
  • Cease support to and coordination with armed groups—including the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group—that unlawfully recruit and use children.
  • Coordinate with international organizations to demobilize and provide reintegration services to child soldiers, cease detention of former child soldiers, and increase efforts to minimize their re-recruitment by armed groups.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including complicit officials, and adequately sentence convicted traffickers.
  • Train officials to use the SOPs for victim identification and referral to care and proactively identify trafficking victims.
  • Expand anti-trafficking training for police and gendarmerie to effectively investigate trafficking cases, identify victims, and refer them to care, in partnership with NGOs.
  • Relevant ministries allocate additional financial and in-kind resources to support the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children’s (UMIRR) operations.
  • Include trafficking-specific training to judges, magistrates, and prosecutors in the country’s judicial academies and expand training for existing justice sector officials.
  • Increase the number of court hearings—separate from informal mediation—for suspected trafficking cases.
  • Increase referrals of victims to services in partnership with NGOs and international organizations, and ensure trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit.
  • Expand radio programming in French and Sangho to raise awareness of the crime in Bangui in partnership with civil society, traditional and religious leaders, as well as international organizations to enhance the public’s ability to identify and refer trafficking crimes to law enforcement officers.
  • Provide additional staff and resources—in coordination with international organizations—to support the government’s anti- trafficking focal point within the presidency as well as the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Bureau.
  • Strengthen coordination between civil society, NGOs, and the government on victim services.

PROSECUTION

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Article 151 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as kidnapping. If the crime involved a child victim of sex trafficking or forced labor similar to slavery, the prescribed penalties increased to five to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor. The government, in collaboration with international organizations, drafted new trafficking legislation, which was pending review by the national assembly at the end of the reporting period.

The government reported initiating eight trafficking investigations and continuing 30 investigations from the previous reporting period, compared with initiating 33 investigations in the previous reporting period. The government reported prosecuting two suspects compared with none in the previous reporting period. For the first time in five years, the government convicted a trafficker for forced labor of children under Article 151 of the criminal code. The court ordered a suspended one-year sentence. The government reported court hearings were suspended for two months due to pandemic restrictions during the reporting period.

The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, hindering law enforcement action during the year. The government investigated a customs agent suspected of sex trafficking 12 victims, including 11 girls and one woman; the case remained pending trial at the end of the reporting period. Individual FACA soldiers—violating command directives—forcibly recruited at least one child and used seven children in support roles to serve at checkpoints and run errands. FACA continued to collaborate and provide material support to a Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, which forcibly recruited and used children to gather intelligence and as laborers.

In partnership with international organizations, the government provided 12 trainings for government officials on trafficking indicators, trafficking penal code, and victim identification and referral. Most government officials lacked an understanding of human trafficking, hindering the government’s ability to investigate trafficking crimes and identify victims. Authorities partnered with five UN Police (UNPOL) mentors to assist in law enforcement operations. Years of destabilizing conflict exacerbated by continued violence during the reporting period severely limited formal judicial capacity outside the capital, leading to the frequent use of customary dispute resolution methods through which traditional chiefs or community leaders administered punishment for criminal acts.

PROTECTION

The government demonstrated mixed victim protection efforts. The country’s anti-trafficking committee reported UMIRR officials identified 19 victims (six adult men, one adult woman, and 12 girls; 10 victims were exploited in sex trafficking and nine were exploited in labor trafficking), compared with identifying 34 trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. The government created UMIRR in 2015 and operationalized the unit in 2017 to prevent sexual violence against women and children; it serves as the lead government agency on providing protective services for trafficking victims. Observers noted that most trafficking victims were individuals predominantly living in conflict or crisis zones and overwhelmingly members of the minority Ba’Aka community. Authorities provided services to all 19 identified victims and referred all victims to government-supported NGOs for provision of services. The government continued to provide services to more than 30 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government, in partnership with an international organization, finalized SOPs for victim identification and referral to care and conducted training for officials on the procedures. Due to limited use of formal identification procedures and a lack of anti-trafficking training, authorities may have arrested or detained some unidentified victims.

UMIRR continued to provide services to trafficking victims, including medical and psycho-social support in partnership with NGOs and UN organizations. The government reported legal aid services were provided by donor-funded organizations. While foreign national victims and CAR citizens are entitled to the same services, UMIRR officials reported long-term assistance was not available to foreign national victims. The government repatriated two victims from Cameroon during the reporting period. Additionally, international organizations aided in the voluntary return of one trafficking victim. Officials reported that some safe housing options for victims were not available due to pandemic restrictions to reduce overcrowding, which created difficulty finding shelters for some victims.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Families and Children partnered with a local organization to assist 33 child sex trafficking victims in Bangui and provided them with counseling, health education, and life-skills and vocational training. During the reporting period, the government assisted MINUSCA in screening 134 children (117 boys and 17 girls) used by armed groups to facilitate their enrollment in demobilization programs and demobilized 78 children (64 boys and 14 girls) used by armed groups. In coordination with an international organization, the government provided an unknown number of children (some of whom were identified in previous reporting periods) shelter, psycho-social services, and reintegration assistance, compared with demobilizing 855 child soldiers in 2020. Government and international organizations reported five former child soldiers remained in detention in the Ngaragba prison due to a lack of alternative placement options for their referral and care (two were detained in 2019, one in 2020, and two in July and August 2021).

The government reported adult victims supported law enforcement efforts against alleged traffickers; courts held closed door trials for cases involving children. The government did not provide witness protection to victims but collaborated with local organizations to provide legal aid. Authorities did not report providing legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The law allowed victims to file civil suits against the government or their alleged traffickers for restitution; however, the government did not report any victims filing civil suits during the reporting period.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial National Committee for Trafficking in Persons (National Committee), led by a presidentially appointed advisor, continued to coordinate government anti-trafficking efforts and convened regularly. The National Committee drafted and finalized a 2022-2023 national action plan to combat human trafficking. The government, in coordination with local NGOs, trained journalists, social workers, and parliamentarians on trafficking. In partnership with NGOs, the government also trained local authorities and officials from the Ministry of Territorial Administration in March and developed plans to expand these trainings to provinces. The government continued to carry out awareness-raising campaigns in collaboration with local NGOs and funded a weekly radio program on countering human trafficking. The government continued to collaborate with UNPOL on its annual awareness campaigns against sexual exploitation and abuse. UMIRR continued to operate its hotline dedicated to gender-based violence staffed by French and local-language speakers. In partnership with international organizations, the government launched a hotline for violence against women, including trafficking. Officials did not report taking any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, nor providing anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. An international organization also worked in coordination with local authorities on awareness campaigns against sexual exploitation and abuse, including among its own staff, through its conduct and discipline unit. In September 2021, the UN secretary-general withdrew 450 Gabonese peacekeepers serving in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) following allegations against the contingent of widespread, systematic sexual exploitation.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in CAR, and traffickers exploit victims from CAR abroad. Observers report traffickers primarily exploit CAR nationals within the country and in smaller numbers in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. Perpetrators—including transient merchants, herders, and non-state armed groups—exploit children in domestic servitude, sex trafficking, as well as in forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mines, shops, restaurants and bars, and street vending within CAR. Also, within the country, some relatives exploit children in domestic servitude, and community members exploit Aka (pygmy) minorities in domestic servitude, especially in the southwest of the country. Authorities’ prejudice against individuals in commercial sex—despite its prevalence—hinders victims’ access to justice and assistance. Some government workers reportedly coerced women into sex in exchange for government employment or documents and services to which they were entitled. Fraudulent labor recruiters attract foreigners from nearby countries such as Chad and Libya to enter the country undocumented to work in CAR’s mining sector; armed groups capture and exploit some of these economic migrants in forced labor.

Some relatives or community members coerce girls into forced marriages and subsequently exploit the girls in domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Stemming from severe poverty throughout the country, a government official stated husbands may coerce their wives to engage in commercial sex to cover household expenses, with little recourse from authorities. Officials note family members also exploit children in forced labor and sex trafficking to supplement family income.

Observers reported Central African criminal elements engage in the sex trafficking of girls as young as 13 in maisons de joie (houses of joy) throughout Bangui. Maisons de joie are private residences with little official oversight where CAR nationals serve alcohol and food to middle- and upper-class customers as a cover to exploit girls and women in commercial sex. Criminals reportedly take advantage of abject poverty across the country to recruit women and girls with the promise of money for their children or families.

Violent conflict since 2012 has resulted in chronic instability and the internal displacement of 632,240 people, increasing the vulnerability of adults and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. Observers noted individuals or communities living in conflict, crisis, or post-disaster settings, minorities, and undocumented migrants are at particular risk of sex trafficking and forced labor. Observers also reported 2.8 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 717,000 people were internally displaced as of June 2021.

Escalating pre- and post-election violence resulted in armed groups recruiting and using more child soldiers, with nearly 3,000 recruited into combat since the country’s December 2020 elections. The coalition of six armed groups (Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique [MPC], Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation [3R], Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique [UPC], Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique [FPRC], Anti-Balaka Mokom, and Anti-Balaka Ndomate), intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government—the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC)—continued to recruit child soldiers during the reporting period. Additionally, individual militias associated with Anti-Balaka; Ex- Seleka; FPRC; Lords Resistance Army; 3R; UPC; and other armed groups continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers in CAR before and after the creation of the CPC. Multiple sources alleged armed groups in southeastern CAR—areas outside of governmental control—kidnapped children and coerced them into serving as child soldiers, in addition to forcing community members into forced labor as porters, cooks, and other support roles, or in illegal mining operations. International organizations reported armed groups recruited children to serve as combatants, servants, child brides, and sex slaves in 2020; armed groups also subjected children to forced labor in the mining sector. Additionally, observers reported FACA forcibly recruited at least one child and used seven children in support roles to man checkpoints, run errands, and gather information in 2021; forces from a Russia-backed group forcibly recruited a child in CAR to gather intelligence during the reporting period.

Since the conflict began in 2012, armed groups have recruited more than 17,000 children. Militias primarily recruited and used child soldiers from the prefectures of Vakaga, Haute-Kotto, Haut-Mbomou, Nana- Grebizi, Nana-Mambere, and Basse-Kotto; these areas were under intermittent government control during the reporting period. Although some children may initially join locally organized community defense groups to protect their families from opposing militias, many commanders maintain influence over these children even after they are demobilized, increasing their risk of re-recruitment. Inadequately funded reintegration programming, continuing instability, and a lack of economic opportunity throughout the country exacerbate the risks of re-recruitment among former child soldiers. Some demobilized child soldiers face violent—and at times deadly—reprisals from their communities following reintegration.

U.S. Department of State

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